On Monday of this week, I performed a rather sobering task. I had to go into a Government website to apply for my over 70’s driving licence. I haven’t actually turned 70 yet, that’s not until June, but, as many of you will probably know, the licence can be applied for within 90 days of the actual birthday. After my application was submitted, I had to cut my old licence in half, and send it to the DVLC in Swansea. I always have a certain, anxious, unease, going into Government websites. It’s the warning about it being a criminal offence to provide wrong information that gets me. Being a fan of TV crime dramas, I always imagine our house being surrounded by armed police, and being told to come out with my hands up, because I have put in my wrong date of birth. Anyway, it was the first time that it really struck me that I will be turning 70 this year, and that gave me pause for reflection.
I also started thinking back to my last two birthdays ending in “0” during this millennium. In 2001, I was due to turn 50. In January of that year, I was transferred from St. Gabriel’s in Prestonpans, to St. Paul of the Cross, at Mount Argus in Dublin. Knowing that I was a raving introvert, and that I would find a big, surprise bash, my worst nightmare; my family had been looking to organise something more modest for when I would be home in the summer. Sadly, just a few weeks before my 50th birthday, my mother died, and so, all celebrations were, not just put on hold, but cancelled. I came back and celebrated the funeral, staying at home with my younger brother, who had been totally dedicated to looking after my mother in her later years. We were concerned about how he would move on, but, after a couple of weeks, he said to me that it was time for him to go back to work, and time for me to go back to Dublin, and that was it. He facilitated the way for us all to move on, so now it’s my turn to look after him.
In 2011, I was due to turn 60. I was still parish priest in Mount Argus, and this time there was to be no escaping the big, surprise bash, in what we called the upper room. It wasn’t really a surprise as some people, knowing how much I would recoil against it, thought it best to give me warning, so that I could prepare myself. It was a good celebration of food, wine and song, which left me utterly exhausted, but I appreciated the kindness of it all. The collective gift I was given was a Kindle. I had always said I would never buy a Kindle as, being a lover of books, I did not want to surrender the feeling of holding a good book in my hands and turning the pages in anticipation of what was to come. However, I have to confess that the Kindle has been a real blessing, even though, for certain books, I still buy hard copy, to have and to hold. For that special birthday my family came over to Ireland and took a big cottage in County Wicklow to house 3 generations of the clan for a week. They arrived on a Saturday and came to Mass in Mount Argus on the Sunday. It just so happened that an actor called Niall Tobin was at Mass that day. One of the roles he was famous for was Father Mac in Ballykissangel.
It turned out that my niece and grandniece were big fans of the series, and they were thrilled to see Niall talking to me outside after Mass. He was, in fact, a parishioner, and, when not on his travels, lived in one of the streets opposite the church, the same street that the singer Mary Black, and the actor Lorcan Cranitch, also lived. Ballykissangel was filmed in the village of Avoca in County Wicklow, not far from where my clan had taken their cottage, and so, later that day, we went for lunch in the pub that featured in the series, where the walls were totally covered in photographs taken from the show. It was a good start to the week. Later in the week, myself and my niece’s husband paid what remains my one and only visit to the famous Guinness Brewery in Dublin, thanks to two free tickets provided by Brother Martin Denny, who, before joining the Passionists, had been a cooper in Guinness, as had his father and his grandfather before him. We finished the tour looking out over panoramic views of the city from the penthouse bar, holding delicious pints of black stuff in our hands – very enjoyable.
So, now it’s onwards to my 70th. Hopefully, in these times, it will be nice and subdued. So, as always, protect yourself, protect your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.